Posted by: mikeduckett | April 4, 2018

Developing Others .v. They’ve Either Got It or They Haven’t

DNAOne of my clients contacted me recently to ask where I sat on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate and whether I thought people who simply didn’t do what was expected of them could change or was it just their nature? Did I think people can change their performance? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles!?
It’s a very important question though because you must have had the experience of recruiting someone and having great expectations only to be disappointed. Did you make an error of judgment at the recruitment stage by not spotting something about them that’s in their DNA? Possibly; there is evidence for some influence of the genes in people’s habitual behaviour but if you believe that it really is ‘just who they are’ then you’re stuffed and you’d better get head hunting all over again.

However, the full picture on genetic determination of behaviour (and physical matters too) is that the causes of any pattern of behaviour are extremely complex and influenced by many factors outside your genetic make up. This is a great debate to get into and follow all the likely causes of a behaviour but it’s outside the scope of this blog. Anyway, it’s simply much more useful to take the view that a default behaviour is a complex piece of learning that has become habit. This means you can unlearn it and re-learn some other reaction that leads to better results.

So that brings us back to your dilemma over what to do about the under-performing new recruit. Do you have to accept your mistake, cut your losses and go back to head hunting? No, not all. If you look again at Goldman’s competency framework (see previous blog) you’ll see that Developing Others is a key competency, in fact he says it’s the most common one amongst high performing leaders. You can’t do this if you believe “it’s just who they are”. Under this heading Goldman list several key skills you can develop that will help you in turn develop that employee into the one you thought you saw at the interview:

Reward and praise
In the early stages of the recruit’s start with you can actively look for things to reward them for. They may not yet be producing all that you want but can you reward, with praise, the things they are doing right? Basic learning theory shows us that punishing behaviour you don’t want only works whilst the punishment is being administered. When it, or the threat of it, recedes the old behaviour will likely recur quickly. However, if you reward the behaviour (or behaviour close to) what you want this behaviour will continue long after the reward has been given – hopefully it will in fact become rewarding in itself, maybe as they start to enjoy a new-found skill.

Give Good Performance Feedback
How can you reward and praise someone who isn’t up to scratch? Interestingly, this starts with giving feedback and this is something I regularly find is absent when I’m working with a client who wants to improve; no one has given them specificfeedback-comments-road-sign- performance feedback. They may have been criticised but not given feedback. Feedback and criticism or praise are separate things. Feedback is always focused on behaviour i.e. what you saw or heard versus what you expected to hear or see; no comment on the person’s character. Without being told precisely what they did or didn’t do they have nothing to work with to try to change. If you are someone who hates conflict the point is that feedback is not conflict if it stays with the facts but if you avoid giving feedback then you aren’t being fair to the other person nor to yourself as you’re not really giving your recruitment skills a chance.

Now you can begin to look for any behaviour that you can reward with praise that is in line with what you’ve agreed, even if the overall outcome isn’t yet what you want.

Offer Mentoring and Coaching
We might do a future blog on the differences between mentoring and coaching but for now let me just say that I will often ask a client to bring in someone more senior or experienced to act as mentor. Then the three of us, client, coach and mentor will work together. The mentor should be someone who will give expert advice based on their experience and subject knowledge – the coach’s job then is to help the chef turn that advice into actual performance.

As a coaching psychologist, I know the difference between these two approaches and they are skills with great depth (trust me – I’m not just ‘bigging myself up’!) but if you look back at previous blogs you’ll find lots of tips on helping people to set useful clear goals and on using the simple GROW model to start coaching.

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